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What is responsible consumption?

Act 22/2010, of 20 July, concerning the Catalan Consumer Code, defines responsible consumption as “moderate, informed, reflective and conscientious consumption of goods and services, taking into account cultural, environmental and social, economic and linguistic sustainability criteria”

Responsible consumption is a concept that champions a change in our consumer habits and adapting them to our own and the planet's real needs, by choosing options which foster social equality and favour the environment, i.e., actions which cause the minimum environmental impact and the maximum social benefits possible. More specifically, responsible consumption is linked to the production, distribution, use and expenditure of products and services, and provides the means for rethinking their life cycles. We live in a society that foments unbridled consumerism through its use and disposal policies. And today more than ever, there is a clear need for a profound change in consumer habits.

Reducing consumption

Responsible consumption also means consuming less. Firstly, we can choose to purchase and consume only the goods and services we are actually going to use. Secondly, we can adopt a more critical attitude and avoid allowing ourselves to be persuaded by adverts that encourage superfluous and often needless consumerism.

The Healthcare Users, Health, Consumption and Food Coordination Committee, offers a checklist for ensuring responsible consumption and avoiding unnecessary purchases:

  • Do I need what I want to buy?
  • Am I trying to satisfy a desire?
  • Am I choosing freely or is this a compulsive purchase?
  • How many do I already have?
  • When will I use it?
  • How long will it last?
  • Could I borrow it from a friend or relative?
  • Can I get by without it?
  • Will I be able to maintain / clean / repair it myself?
  • Will I want to do that?
  • Have I searched for better quality and lower prices?

What is collaborative consumption?

Collaborative consumption is an extensive and varied movement that proposes sharing, collaboration and access to, or the exchange of, goods and services instead of possessing them. It aims to progress from ownership to use. It would be a traditional way of sharing, exchanging, lending, renting, bartering and giving away, redefined through modern technology and communities.

Cars, washing-machines, bicycles, books, CDs, clothes, electric household appliances, furniture, toys, meals can be shared... The culture of use and disposal can also be reduced for a variety of products, through the exchange, reuse, and the buying and selling, or donation of second-hand items between individual people.

And it is not just material items that can be shared or exchanged. People with common interests are helping to share and exchange less tangible goods, including time, space, skills and money. Such exchanges take place mainly in local or neighbourhood environments, where spaces with a variety of purposes are shared.

Advice for responsible purchasing

Here is some basic advice for making a responsible purchase:

  • Get information on the item's basic features and choose the one most suited to your needs.
  • Buy only what is necessary and within your financial means.
  • Choose ecological products.
  • Buy wholesale products with minimal packaging or with materials that are readily recyclable and of low environmental impact.
  • Keep your shopping basket free of plastic and aluminium-foil bags and use recyclable bags and containers for carrying food
  • Avoid purchasing products that contain substances which are toxic or harmful to your health.
  • Choose local products that promote the local economy, reduce costs and the impact generated by transport.
  • Choose fair-trade products which favour the local economies of southern countries and ensure workers' rights are respected throughout the production, distribution and marketing chain.
  • Put your savings in ethical banking.
  • Adopt forms of tourism that have no negative impact on the host society or the environment.

What is waste prevention?

Waste generation is a problem that is closely linked to consumption. Like it or not, when we consume, we produce waste that has to be treated in some way. Separating waste for subsequent recycling is becoming an increasingly common practice, though it is not the only one, and it is by no means enough. We also need to talk about waste prevention.

Municipal waste management is based on a hierarchical pyramid established by European, Spanish and Catalan legislation. Prevention is top of the list, ahead of recycling, while controlled disposal is considered to be the last resort. That implies the idea that the best waste product is the one that is not produced. Waste prevention can be quantitative (weight, volume etc.) or qualitative (prevention of toxic or hazardous waste etc.) The European Week for Waste Prevention has been held for several years now, in order to raise the general public's awareness about waste prevention and waste reduction.

European Week for Waste Prevention (EWWR) first started in 2009. This is an annual initiative to promote activities and actions aimed at raising the population's awareness about waste, based on the ‘3Rs’ philosophy (reducing, reusing and recycling) and focused, above all, on prevention. It also co-ordinates the Clean-Up Day, which involves European-wide cleaning campaigns for various environments which aim to highlight the problem of increasing waste and the deficient management of that waste.

Each edition of European Week for Waste Prevention focuses on a specific theme. In 2014, the it dealt with food waste, in 2015, the theme was dematerialisation and the 2016 edition will focus on hazardous-waste prevention... The EWWR webpage offers the general public a range of tools and resources for finding out more about this subject.

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What is fair trade?

According to the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), fair trade is defined as a commercial system based on dialogue, transparency and respect, which aims for greater fairness in international trade by prioritising social and environmental criteria over and above economic ones.

Fair trade contributes towards sustainable development by taking the environment into account and complementing the local economies of southern countries, while ensuring decent working conditions for workers.

Fair Trade is a social movement which uses commercial practices, awareness raising and social mobilisation to change the current models of economic relations and take part in constructing alternatives, i.e., it is a process of environment-friendly product exchanges that aims to bring about a fairer distribution of work and profits.

For the many organisations involved, the struggle for fair trade is a fight to change the unfair structure of international trade, where a few transnational companies that dominate multilateral bodies - such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, along with the agrarian and commercial policies of the main governments - have been fostering an unfair and unsustainable model for agriculture, trade and consumption. Fair trade practices have to go hand in hand with denouncing and combating the current international trade system and with making the entire trade process transparent, in both the north and the south, so that responsible consumers can evaluate the consistency of the products they buy. Fair trade is not an activity sector but rather part of a process for building an alternative society.

Fair trade is based on the following principles:

  • Redressing the existing inequalities in international trade relations.
  • Promoting more respectful consumption alternatives, based on the participation of individuals and communities.
  • Ensuring fair wages for workers.
  • Ensuring decent working conditions.
  • Protecting children's rights.
  • Applying transparency to the entire commercialisation process in both the North and the South.
  • Ensuring gender equality.
  • Protecting ethnic minorities.
  • Ecological sustainability.

What is local consumption?

Local consumption refers to the geographical distance between where a product is produced and where it is consumed. It also refers to traceability and access to information concerning the consumed products. Local consumption therefore means choosing products and services from an area near you and knowing their origin, how they were produced, etc. Local consumption also allows a closer, more direct relationship between producers and consumers.

Does local consumption provide us with any benefits?

  • First, shorter distances means we can choose fresh and in-season products
  • It fosters local economies and means that families can continue to work in agriculture and livestock farming
  • It reduces transport-related energy expenditure and pollution. Importing products from other continents causes tonnes of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere!
  • We promote the conservation of native, agro-food varieties that have gradually lost prominence

What is ecological consumption?

Ecological products are those produced under ecological, local and seasonal agricultural or livestock-farming parameters.

Ecological agriculture is defined as an agricultural practice that does not use synthetic chemical products, such as chemical fertilisers, pesticides and phytohormones. It aims to ensure a viable and sustainable system of agrarian management that combines production techniques for the optimal and sustainable use of natural resources, by minimising the impact of agricultural activities on the environment through good agro-environmental practices, such as the responsible use of energy and natural resources. Ecological agriculture takes into account soil conservation and improvement, natural cycles and adapting the type of crops used to an area's climate.

The main difference with conventional agriculture, the one that all the techniques applied in this type of agriculture are based on, is to consider agrarian areas as ecosystems. Conventional agriculture based on chemical fertilisers, monocultures, excessive ploughing and herbicides. It is very productive in the short term but endangers the viability of the soil in the long term, and contributes towards the loss of cultivated biodiversity (varieties of fruit, vegetables, cereals, legumes, etc.), which has been dramatic in some cases. Thousands of native varieties, adapted to a wide range of conditions, have been lost in only a few years. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 75% of cultivated biodiversity was lost between 1900 and 2000.

However, by definition, ecological agrarian systems are diverse, and different techniques are applied to maintain biological diversity and conserve cultivated biodiversity, including: crop rotation and association, the use of traditional seeds, permanent vegetation cover, integrating agriculture and livestock farming and maintaining farmyards and wooded areas.

Regarding health, ecological products are free of the persistent toxic products derived from pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic fertilisers, additives and preservatives used in conventional agriculture for eliminating insects and pests and combating diseases. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) cannot be cultivated in ecological agriculture as they may have negative consequences on both health and the environment. There are currently no scientific results proving that GMO cultivation is harmless to the environment or human health, and it is still unknown whether ingesting genetically modified plants poses a danger to those who consume them.

Catalonia was a pioneer in developing ecological agriculture in Spain. It all began with groups of natural-food consumers and vegetarians looking for toxin-free food. Family farming businesses gradually started to join in. Many of them still used traditional techniques and it was relatively easy to fit them into their principles. It is currently a growing sector in our territory.